Saturday, July 5, 2014

2014 Mostly British Film Festival

The 2014 Mostly British Film Festival was held from February 13 to 20 at the Vogue Theater.

This year the festival overlapped with IndieFest.   In 2013, the Mostly British was held from January 17 to 24; almost a month earlier in the year and with no conflict with other film festivals.  Due to the conflict with IndieFest, I ended up splitting time between the Roxie and the Vogue.

I saw 12 films at the festival this year.

Love Me 'Till Monday; directed by Justin Hardy; (2013) - Official Website
Love Actually starring Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Chiwetel Ejiofor & Bill Nighy; directed by Richard Curtis; English and some Portguese with subtitles; (2003) - Official Website
England Made Me starring Michael York, Peter Finch & Hildegard Neil; directed by Peter Duffell; (1973)
The Look of Love starring Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots, Anna Friel & Tasmin Egerton; directed by Michael Winterbottom; (2013) - Official Facebook
The Hit starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt, Tim Roth & Laura del Sol; directed by Stephen Frears; (1984)
The Selfish Giant starring Conner Chapman & Shaun Thomas; directed by Clio Barnard; (2013)
Mystery Road starring Aaron Pedersen & Hugo Weaving; directed by Ivan Sen; (2013) - Official Website
Last Dance starring Julia Blake & Firass Dirani; directed by David Pulbrook; (2012)
Run & Jump starring Maxine Peake, Will Forte & Edward MacLiam; directed by Steph Green; (2013) - Official Website
Life's a Breeze starring Fionnula Flanagan & Kelly Thornton; directed by Lance Daly; (2013)
Having You starring Andrew Buchan, Romola Garai & Anna Friel; directed by Sam Hoare; (2013)
The Lunchbox starring Irrfan Khan & Nimrat Kaur; directed by Ritesh Batra; English & Hindi with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website

In March, I was able to catch two additional films from the festival.

Le Week-End starring Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan & Jeff Goldblum; directed by Roger Michell; (2013) - Official Website
Stay starring Taylor Schilling & Aidan Quinn; directed by Wiebke von Carolsfeld; (2013)

I saw Le Week-End at the Landmark Aquarius in Menlo Park and Stay at the Little Roxie.

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Love Actually was my favorite film of the series.  On December 20, 2013, Midnites for Maniacs screened Love Actually.  I was ill that day.  I was surprised to see the film on the Mostly British lineup within two months of the Midnites' screening but cannot complain.

re: Midnites for Maniacs - Jesse Hawthorne Ficks has posted his next four event.  The one which caught my eye is his screening of The Wiz on Friday, August 29.  That is Labor Day Weekend.  I've never seen The Wiz and I am very anxious to see it.  The Wiz is The Wizard of Oz transplanted to 1970s Harlem with blaxploitation aesthetics.  The only bad part is that it conflicts with Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame at the PFA.

Midnites for Manics screens the Back to the Future trilogy starting at 5 PM tonight at the Castro Theater.

There is no way I an do justice to Love Actually with a plot synopsis.  There are about 10 plot lines in the film and the characters are interconnected in some form or another.  Just integrating all these characters into a 136 minute film is an impressive screenwriting, directorial and editorial accomplishment.  However, it doesn't end there because the cast is superb and stellar.

What I most enjoyed about Love Actually is that love in its many forms is depicted as messy; much like real life.  The relationships shown in the film are blocked or interrupted by infidelity, unstated emotions, death, distance, British tabloids, etc.  More a dramedy than rom-com, I was thoroughly smitten with Love Actually.  If I had to criticize something, it would be that a few of the subplots could have been dropped to reduce the length of the film or spend more time on some of the more interesting stories.

The cast is huge.  I didn't mention Billy Bob Thornton (as the President of the US!), Claudia Schiffer, Rowan Atkinson and other have small roles.  From the principle cast, I would call out Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon and Colin Firth for special recognition.

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The Lunchbox received the widest US theatrical distribution of any Indian film.  I recall it was still in theaters last month.  The guest who introduced the film at the festival spoke at length about the dabbawalla system.  In India (particularly Mumbai), there is an extensive dabbawalla system.  Dabbawalla translates roughly to "lunchbox delivery person."  Dabbawallas collect lunchboxes with food from various restaurants and residences in the mid-morning, using multiples modes of transportation to deliver them to central distribution point where they sent to their ultimate destination which is usually an office or workplace.  In mid-afternoon, the dabbawallas reverse the distribution from offices back to the starting points.  In Mumbai, there are 5,000 people delivering 200,000 lunchboxes per day.  The error rate is very low...so low that it serves as an effective plot device for a Bollywood film.

Irrfan Khan is Saajan, a government accountant approaching retirement.  He is a widower and has his lunches prepared by a restaurant and delivered via the dabbawallas.  Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a young housewife whose marriage is stagnating.  Hoping to put the romance back in her marriage, Ila lovingly prepares her husband's lunch which is delivered by the dabbawallas.  One day, the two lunchboxes get misdelivered.  Saajan notices the improved quality of the food immediately.  Ila's husband also notices the decreased quality of the food but they don't talk much.  It turns out he is having an extramarital affair.  Eventually Ila realizes that despite the unlikelihood, her husband's lunchbox is being delivered to someone else.  She slips a note into the lunchbox and thanks the unknown recipient for complimenting her by eating all the food in the lunchbox.  Thus begins an epistolary relationship between Saajan & Ila.

The two begin to share details about their lives with each other.  Saajan has been lonely since the death of his wife.  He is training his replacement at work but the young man has conned his way onto the job and is woefully unqualified.  Despite this, Saajan and the young man (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) become friends.  Ila's father is terminally ill and she feels deeply dissatisfied with her marriage.

What sets The Lunchbox apart is this old-fashioned romance by letter plot device.  The two lead actors do not share a scene if I recall correctly.  If they do, they don't exchange dialogue with each other.  The depth of their feelings are conveyed through their narration of their letters.  The tone shifts gradually from two lonely people connecting with each to two people falling in love with each other.  Thankfully, their "love" remained unconsummated given their characters' age difference.  This gives The Lunchbox a bittersweet tone which I thought perfectly matched the performances and the plot.

I recall Irrfan Khan from his roles in Maqbool and Slumdog Millionaire.  I was impressed by Nimrat Kaur's performance in Peddlers last year.  Both actors shine in The Lunchbox.

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The Look of Love was directed by acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom and starred Steve Coogan, an actor who I am appreciating more and more.  The film is a biopic of Paul Raymond (Coogan), the smut king of the UK who (according to the film) was the wealthiest man in the UK at the time of his death in 2008.  Raymond published pornographic magazines, owned strip clubs and adult cabarets but made much of his fortune by investing in commercial real estate in the Soho area of London.

Mostly of the film is set in the 1960s and 1970s when a man like Raymond could bloom.  Anna Friel plays Raymond's wife Jean.  Jean leaves him when he takes up with equally libertine Amber St. George (Tamsin Egerton in a flashy performance).  The third woman in Raymond's life is his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots).

The Look of Love chronicles Raymond's personal descent into drug usage, debauchery, emotional isolation and other excesses while his professional success and wealth soar.  The Look of Love appears superficial and empty which is likely caused by the source material.  In other words, The Look of Love appears superficial and empty because Paul Raymond lived his life in such a manner or at least, Michael Winterbottom chose to frame his life in such a manner.

I didn't expect The Look of Love to be introspective or subtle film and it did not disappoint.  Much of the enjoyment came from the costumes and soundtrack capturing the fashions of the day.  The four lead actors turn in solid performances.  There is also a fair bit of nudity and sexual situations.

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The Hit was Stephen Fears' second feature film.  The Mostly British screened his first feature, Gumshoe, in 2012.  The Hit was also Tim Roth's film debut.

Terrance Stamp plays Parker, an English criminal who has testified against his accomplices and now, a decade later, is living under witness protection in Spain.  He is captured by two hitmen - the older, more experienced Braddock (John Hurt) and his impulsive apprentice Myron (Roth).  The two assassins have instruction to deliver Parker from Spain to Paris where the gangsters Parker testified against are waiting to kill him.  It's a long drive and the trio stop in Madrid at a criminal safe house Braddock knows about.  An Australian criminal and his younger, Spanish girlfriend Maggie (Laura del Sol) are squatting at the safe house when Braddock, Parker & Myron arrive.  Not wanting to risk their location being revealed, Braddock kills the Aussie and kidnaps Maggie.

The rest of the film is a road trip with the four.  Parker creates discord among the two hitmen while Myron becomes sweet on Maggie.  Parker also assumes an untroubled attitude despite his likely impending murder.  The stress of their situation becomes too much for Braddock who unilaterally decides to abandon the trip to Paris.  I'll refrain giving away who lives and dies but the ones who do die reveal their "true" character before their deaths.

The performances were all strong although John Hurt was particularly memorable.

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Love Me 'Till Monday - a low budget film about a young woman navigating romance and life in the 21st century England.  While not forgettable, the film is certainly not recommendable.

England Made Me - Michael York was supposed to be in attendance but was a last minute no-show due to dental surgery or something.  A radio interview was played in the theater.  He also called in and was interviewed by Ruthie Stein.  England Made Me was based on a Graham Greene novel of the same name.  York play a ne'er-do-well Englishman who gets in over his head with his older sister and her wealthy industrialist fianc√©.  Set in pre-war Nazi Germany and including an incestuous relationship between brother and sister, the film is a bit of a jumbled mess.  The actors seem miscast and the film tries too hard to invoke Cabaret.

The Selfish Giant - two boys deal in stolen scrap metal until an accident kills one of them.  Issues of childhood friendship, bad influences, bad choices and forgiveness are explored.  Nice performances by teenagers Conner Chapman & Shaun Thomas as the two boys.

Mystery Road - above average Australian crime thriller about an Aboriginal cop brought back to his Outback hometown to investigate the murder of a girl.  He finds drug dealing, teenage prostitution and dirty cops.  The plot was too complicated by a half but the film strikes a dark tone which ratchets up the suspense.

Last Dance - Australian film about an elderly Jewish widow and a wounded, young Muslim terrorist are holed up in her house following a terrorist attack.  Effective drama if not a little simplistic and predictable.

Run & Jump - Saturday Night Live alumnus and Nebraska star Will Forte plays a doctor who goes to Ireland to conduct field research on a man who is recovering from a stroke.  The doctor lives with the man's family and begins to insert himself into the family dynamics.  In particular, an attraction develops between the doctor and the man's wife (Maxine Peake in good performance).  Run & Jump is one of the better films I saw at the festival.

Life's a Breeze - an Irish comedy about family who remodels the matriarch's house and unwittingly toss out a bed mattress containing her life's savings.  The woman and her granddaughter search the streets and landfills of Dublin looking for the mattress.

Having You - a young man finally decides to settle down and marry his long-time (and pregnant) girlfriend...only to discover his one-night stand from a decade ago produced a child.  The mother (Anna Friel) has cancer and want her son to meet his father.

Le Week-End - a couple (Jim Broadbent & Lindsay Duncan) decide to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary with a weekend in Paris.  Their marriage is far from healthy as the events of the weekend show.  Jeff Goldblum steals the film as an unctuous and faux-sensitive colleague of Broadbent.  Many reference to Jean-Luc Godard's works.  I'm glad I was able to catch this film after the festival ended.

Stay - Taylor Schilling and Aidan Quinn are a long-time couple living in Ireland.  When Schilling finds out she is pregnant, Quinn expresses his lack of desire of having children and Schilling returns to Montreal to say with her father (Michael Ironside).  After that the plot seem to go nowhere.  Quinn deals with an odd teenager, a housing project he doesn't want built near his land, some buried human remains?  I can't recall what Schilling dealt with - pregnancy issues, something about her father.  Stay was a largely forgettable film buoyed by solid if not memorable performances by Schilling & Quinn.

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